John Jay College of Criminal Justice logoIn case you missed it, as they say: Reporter Michael Kiefer opened a four-part series yesterday about the prevalence (or its opposite) of prosecutorial misconduct.

That is bound to be a controversial issue, but I’m sure many will read this week’s Arizona Republic coverage closely.

His first piece is here.

That is certainly relevant to my legal audience, even if the topic will rankle some (if you want to see how much, just scroll down past his article to the reader comments beneath. Sheesh!). But besides the article’s substantive value, I also was intrigued by an acknowledgment included with it:

“This series was researched and written as part of a fellowship with The Guggenheim Foundation and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.”

Arizona Attorney Magazine January 2012 cover criminal sentencingHey, I know the John Jay College—because I also had the opportunity to be named a Guggenheim Fellow a few years ago. As such, I traveled to New York for a targeted symposium on crime in America.

As a working writer, it is quite a luxury to have a trip dedicated to learning—especially when your expenses are paid. In an annual conference, the Guggenheim Foundation brings a parade of national experts before a group of 25 or so journalists to help dissect the criminal justice system. (I got to attend another Guggenheim workshop, in Reno, on incarceration and release issues, in 2008).

The repayment you make to that cutting-edge learning is that you commit to coverage of a related topic. My coverage—on criminal sentencing and the political possibilities for change—appeared in the January 2012 Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Kiefer’s a great reporter, and I can picture the Manhattan room he sat in; I wonder if it snowed during his East Coast trip too. I look forward to what he can accomplish this week (with the Gannett machine behind him!). Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org and let me know what you think of the coverage.

Guggenheim acknowledgment

In the January 2012 issue, I thanked the John Jay College and Guggenheim folks for a terrific learning experience.

law-schoolThe tribulations of law schools continue.

Yesterday, a story from the ABA Journal reported that the McGeorge School of Law had cut its enrollment by 40 percent. That massive sea change was accompanied by staff layoffs at the California school.

Of course, no one course of treatment will be adopted by all the law school patients. A local response to the economic downturn is for an Arizona law school to create its own law firm.

Previously we’ve read about ASU Law School’s plans to launch a firm populated with recent law school graduates. You can read more about it here.

I had mentioned ASU’s initiative back in April. As the law firm gets closer to openings its doors, I’m still wondering what Arizona lawyers think of it.

ASU Law School logoThis past week, one lawyer penned his support for the project in the Arizona Republic. As Mark Briggs opens:

“Something in the legal world is broken. Law schools are creating more lawyers than there are good jobs, and many of these new lawyers have over $100,000 in student-loan debt. It is a tough problem, but ASU is about to try an innovative solution.”

“Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law plans to create an “Alumni Law Group,” which will employ 30 new graduates and will cost approximately $5 million a year to launch. ASU believes it will be self-sufficient in five years.”

“While some have criticized ASU’s plan as merely a ploy to improve the law school’s rankings by boosting its graduates’ employment rates, I think it is a concept well worth trying for several reasons.”

Briggs then offers three reasons he thinks the effort will succeed. And no, it’s not a softball piece; he also critiques what he believes was the law school’s error in being “overly optimistic in admitting far more students than there are jobs in this market.”

You should read his complete op-ed here. And then sound off below with your own viewpoint on the law firm project.

Today is the happy anniversary of a significant legal event: On June 4, 1919, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted. The “suffrage amendment” prohibited voting discrimination based on sex.

It is a coincidence that the remarkable milestone coincides with the release yesterday of important salary data in Arizona. But the two may be related as a view into Americans’ shifting views of gender equity.

 Yesterday, the Arizona Republic released the results of its latest data on the highest-paid executives of Arizona public companies. The paper says that it has compiled these numbers for about the past 15 years.

I don’t know if readers eagerly await the story, though I’d guess it gives the Occupy Movement palpitations. But it is an intriguing view into the corporate world and its ups and downs.

I am one of those increasingly rare folks who get a newspaper subscription, so I was able to read Russ Wiles’ story while sitting at my kitchen table. It was well written and insightful.

But I also am curious about the digital delivery of news, and so last night I surfed over to azcentral.com, home of the Republic and of the local NBC affiliate Channel 12. There, I could see that the delivery left a lot to be desired—even given azcentral’s poor track record.

You may disagree and find azcentral to be all an online newspaper should be. However, I find it a very often unsearchable morass. And this time was no exception. And it got worse than the poor search function.

As in the print newspaper’s strong front-page tease, the salary story got prominent play up top in azcentral (more on that in a minute). The print version followed that up with significant coverage, beginning at D1 and covering almost two more full pages.

Online was more of a slog, though. Clicking the home-page link took you not to Russ’ article, but to a slideshow-type demon that let you click through, one-by-one, all the Arizona executives who earned $4 million or more last year.

Oddly, the slideshow was not broken out between highly paid CEOs and highly paid non-CEOs; they were lumped together (unlike the print paper, which had separate helpful tables).

Nor was the slideshow accessible except in a cumbersome linear way. It began, much to my surprise, with the lowest-paid executive who made $4 million—rather than with the highest-paid executive, who made $82 million.

That’s a generous little gift from the Republic to the one-percent, don’t you think? Online viewers will never take the time to scroll through more than 100 names and bios to find out who is atop the sedan chair (that would be Richard Adkerson, whose mining giant Freeport-McMoRan dished $82 million his way).

Also strange, there is no easy link to Wiles’ actual analysis. Readers curious about what it all means have to search for the story. Of course, they wouldn’t have the benefit print-readers do and know the reporter’s name. Good luck to the nonsubscribers. Here is the story online.

My biggest surprise, though, is one I’ve saved for last.

As I read the Sunday paper, more than one family member looked at the story on D1 and remarked that the biggest salaries went to—surprise—a whole lot of white men. In fact, the paper included 10 small head-shots, and they were as described.

When I got to the azcentral home page, though, a different set of images greeted me: four head-shots, one of whom was a woman.

That page disappeared quickly, so I was sure to save us a screen shot. Here it is.

Because it’s azcentral, there was no helpful photo cutline, so I had to research who the woman was. Fortunately, she’s at the “low end” of the pay scale, so it took me just two clicks to discover that it was Kimberly McWaters, CEO of Universal Technical Institute. She logged in at $4.1 million.

I’m sure the writing and reporting staff have nothing to do with azcentral’s design, but it caused me to wonder: What does the casual web-reader think when they see a story tease about large executive compensation, and 25 percent of the images are of a woman?

That’s misleading, to say the least.

By the Republic’s own data:

  • McWaters was ranked as number 14 out of 52 public company CEOs.
  • She is the only woman CEO in that list of 52 people.
  • And when we include the “highly paid non-CEOs” who earn more than McWaters, she comes in at spot 28 out of 116.
  • By setting the slideshow’s cutoff at $4 million, the online version ensured that there was a woman CEO in the mix.

(To Wiles’ credit, he highlighted the fact that a non-CEO woman—Kathleen Quirk, CFO at Freeport McMoRan—was paid $6.8 million. Her photo did not appear on the home page.)

So you’ve got to wonder: Was the photo of the sole woman CEO cherry-picked by the designers to lend some diversity to a story where there was little? Do standards of accuracy apply online as well as in the print paper?

Given that more and more people are getting their news entirely from digital sources, let’s hope so.

Criminal sentencing and we make strange bedfellows.

When I say “we,” I certainly mean Americans. But today I am wondering about the view most Arizonans have of the length of time we commit people to the penitentiary.

What got me thinking about it was an odd case—or maybe I should say a commonplace case—out of Winslow, Ariz. There, a man committed felonious acts and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.

Nothing surprising, so far. And yet that everyday occurrence led to a firestorm of publicity and shouts about over-sentencing.

In the January issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine, I wrote our cover story about Arizona’s sentencing regime. I examined the question of whether our state is likely to follow a national trend—even in “conservative” states—to re-examine the number of people we incarcerate and the length of time we imprison them. Based on the evidence and the opinions of lawmakers, sentencing reform is not in the offing.

And this week, the Arizona Republic is covering in detail the method of being granted clemency in this state. As today’s story says:

“Statistically, if you are convicted of a felony in Arizona, you are more likely to be struck by lightning than granted clemency by the governor. Excluding the cases of inmates nearing the end of a terminal illness, [Gov. Jan] Brewer is on track to grant the fewest clemency cases in more than two decades—even when a judge and unanimous board recommend a shorter sentence.

“Recent board members interviewed by The Arizona Republic believe clemency will be granted even less frequently in the future.”

The striking thing about all the coverage of sentencing and clemency is that it causes little to no upset among the typical resident. We are, after all, a law-and-order-state. But then this Norwegian fella drives on a Winslow sidewalk, where he aims for people—adults and children—for which he is handed a 7.5-year prison sentence. And people are angered.

I have been surprised at the number of people who mention the case to me, expressing shock and outrage at the sentence length and seeking my agreement.

But 7.5 years for trying to run people down doesn’t even come close to passing the sentencing-abomination test for me, especially in Arizona. Drive the wrong way down a one-way street, try to hit people with your car, and get sentenced severely? I’ll keep my box of outrage dry for now.

Perhaps we in Arizona are so familiar with all of our annual Midwestern visitors, many whose ancestors hale from Scandinavia. We know Norwegians, people think; they’re nice people. This must have been a misunderstanding, not road rage.

Such compassionate sensitivities do not seem to arise in the wake of lengthy sentences handed down every day for those who may not be Scandinavian.

Today in the Republic, the Navajo County Attorney shared his view of the case and people’s reaction to it. He says he was blindsided by the intense reaction to the sentence. And that reaction, he says, was based on a misunderstanding of the facts:

“[A]bandoning the facts … undermines our justice system, where facts are bedrock. And because justice underpins our quality of life, helping us feel safe in our homes and communities, facts absolutely need to be defended.”

You should read Brad Carlyon’s complete piece here.

And here’s hoping that the many who shook their fists in support of a road-rage-consumed Norwegian will similarly read the Republic’s solid coverage about a clemency process that is reported to be more Broadway show than due process.

Do you ever read the comments that follow online news stories? Or do you avoid them like the plague? (Let me know; make a comment.)

The development of the functionality that allows commenting on newspaper websites has been a boon—for conversation and the First Amendment—but often a bust for readers seeking substance and civility.

For example, a few weeks ago my wife and some colleagues had an op-ed piece run in a newspaper. I suggested that she not read the online comments, at least not without first taking some Maalox. Just as we all would have guessed, the online offerings, all anonymous, were a mixture of thoughtful musings (a couple) and misinformed ranting (the bulk).

Having spoken with many newspaper folk over the years, I know that they are conflicted about the conversational beast that they have unleashed. And for me, I’ve wondered about the propriety of, say, virulent racism on the pages of some of our most respected newspapers. Sure, some people have always held views like that, but they have never before had the chance to tout them under the banner of The New York Times or The Washington Post. Is this the best we can do? Really?

Randy Lovely

This week we got the strange and happy coincidence to observe the next steps taken by two newspapers in regard to online comments. Each is set out in an essay written by the newspaper’s editor. I’m not sure what the different reactions mean, but maybe you have an opinion.

The more detailed essay comes today from the Arizona Republic’s Randy Lovely. He is very up-front about his concerns over online commenting, and he says the Republic aims to do something about it.

The Republic’s response is that anonymous comments will no longer be permitted. Instead, he says, “Beginning today, azcentral users wishing to comment on any of our blog posts will need to do so through the use of a personal Facebook account. Ultimately, in the next couple of months, the same technology will be in place for all articles on the site.”

For those (like me) who fear that the Facebook option may be too limiting, Lovely points out that 81 percent of Phoenix adults have Facebook accounts. Of course, the Republic is a statewide newspaper, so I’m not sure that fills the bill. But we’ll see. I’m cautiously pleased that the newspaper has decided to act.

Jill Abramson

Also today, we read that The New York Times is changing its comment policy. Its approach, described by Executive Editor Jill Abramson, sounds much more like a tweak. (I wrote about The Times’ new editor last June.)

Absent from Abramson’s essay is any concern over the degradation of comments. But that may be due to the fact that The Times does not permit anonymous remarks—and that has made all the difference.

Now if we could just get newspapers to deep-six their hellish reliance on pop-up advertising. But that’s a fight for another day.

What do you think about online commenting? Is it a valuable part of news reporting, one that we have grown used to and that we value? Or could you live without it, anonymous or not?

Share your thoughts below.

“It’s the economy, stupid,” may be the recurring voter mantra, according to a story today in the Arizona Republic. According to reporter Daniel González, jobs and the economy have eclipsed immigration as a significant factor in voters’ assessment:

“Heading into the 2012 election season, illegal immigration is no longer the red-hot political issue it was just a few years ago.

“This month’s recall of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce shows the subject has peaked, according to some analysts.”

Well, maybe. But if the Pearce recall was about immigration, as the reporter suggests it was, and that recall happened just 13 days ago, then it may be a bit early to declare immigration dead on arrival. (You can read the whole article here.)

The November issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine includes a pointed article on one approach to illegal immigration. It is a federal endeavor called Operation Streamline.

As author Juan Rocha explains:

“To reduce and deter illegal immigration, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched Operation Streamline. Under this program, the federal government prosecutes a large number of people who illegally enter (or leave) the United States, and imprisons them. But prosecuting mass numbers of people, every day, cannot be done without taking shortcuts.

“Though journalists and academicians have written articles about whether Operation Streamline is or is not good public policy, what follows is a description of the actual Streamline process from the perspective of a defense attorney who has worked in Yuma and Tucson, where the federal government executes streamline prosecutions.”

Read the complete article here.

Does Streamline cut corners, as Rocha maintains? Others have agreed with our author. For instance, here is an article by Stephen Lemons in which he calls the initiative an “immigration boondoggle.” (And the great illustration used at the top of this post came from that article; it was created by artist Brian Stauffer.)

Though the economy appears to be taking center stage in political battles, we’ll continue to examine immigration and border issues in the coming year.

In that regard, what would you like to see us cover? Let me know by commenting below.

Do you feel safer seeing security guards in public places? Or do you get more of a sense of safety when you see uniformed, sworn police officers?

That was one of the questions posed in a news story earlier this week (from the Washington Post and posted on the Arizona Attorney Magazine News Center). The story explains how there has been a huge proliferation in the number of security guards nationwide since 9-11. But is that a good thing?

As if on cue, an Arizona Republic story yesterday reported that it appears Phoenix will soon join other cities in replacing sworn police officers on Metro Light Rail duty. Instead, security guards will provide safety—and ticket-checking—duties.

The article also went to some lengths to explain that the change would cost no additional public money. That would be a real trick—getting something additional for nothing—so it took only a little more reading to see that it would actually cost us something:

“The switch to G4S for passenger monitoring won’t cost the city any extra money. It won’t save Phoenix any money, either, but it will improve oversight of passengers.

“[Cmdr. Jeff Alexander of the Phoenix Public Transit Police Bureau] said that with the change, the bureau would shift $770,000 to Metro light rail to pay for the private-security service. That money would otherwise have paid for filling several vacancies at the bureau: two sergeants, four police assistants and two municipal security guards.”

G4S Security guard

So public monies—and police positions—would be transferred to a private entity, albeit for a public purpose. Given the realities of City budget politics, those are dollars and police positions that we are unlikely to ever see return.

Of course, if the service the public receives from the guards is at least as good as that of the police, it may be a good deal that is being executed (assuming, of course, that a formal RFP and weighing of private options was done, and this was not a single-vendor contract with no analysis of alternatives).

But much of what police and security provide is peace of mind and a deterrent effect, so public impressions about this change in service matter a lot.

Where do you stand on the privatization of security services? Does it have its place? Is it appropriate in some scenarios but not others? Is this national shift an improvement, a detriment, or of little moment one way or the other?

Post your thoughts below, or write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Dennis Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona

According to an announcement this morning from the office of the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona, U. S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke has resigned.

Ann Scheel will serve as Acting United States Attorney.

We covered U.S. Attorney Burke and his goals for the office back in January 2010. (He also is a former member of the Arizona Attorney Magazine Editorial Board.)

The Arizona Republic reported on the resignation, noting that it follows on the heels of the recent “Fast & Furious” gun scandal, which has engulfed the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives. Just today, other outlets reported that ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson had stepped down. The Washington Post reports he has been reassigned.

Republic columnist Laurie Roberts had one of the most intriguing—and quickest—commentaries on what she estimates occurred. (Though Arizona lawyer Faith Klepper has reminded me that lawyer Greg Patterson–who blogs as Espresso Pundit–predicted this back in June.)

Here is Dennis Burke’s resignation letter to President Obama (click to make it larger):

The full release is below. We’ll have more news on this as it become available.

Dennis K. Burke Resigns as U.S. Attorney for District of Arizona 

PHOENIX – Dennis Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, has delivered his letter of resignation to President Obama.

In an email to staff, Burke said:

“The work in every corner of this office – your work – has been significant and impressive.  When I first came to this office a decade ago as a line AUSA (Assistant United States Attorney), I knew this was an excellent office and did important work.”

Burke added, “My long tenure in public service has been intensely gratifying.  It has also been intensely demanding.  For me, it is the right time to move on to pursue other aspects of my career and my life and allow the office to move ahead.

Burke was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona in 2009.  His resignation is effective immediately.

Ann Scheel will serve as Acting United States Attorney, under the Vacancies Reform Act and by virtue of her position as First Assistant.  Burke added, “I thank Ann for agreeing to assume these responsibilities until the Attorney General or the President makes an interim or permanent appointment.”

RELEASE NUMBER: 2011-194(Burke)

Lawyers may not be tea-leaf-reading kind of folks, but even those famously left-brained professionals must see the signs.

Oddity is all about us, people. And that is nowhere more clear than in the signs that line our roads. Let me share.

First, the depressingly inaccurate.

We have witnessed a Mesa battle this week over signs that contain inaccurate information—but it will apparently take a court to have them removed. The recall election of Russell Pearce already occupied too much of the time of newsfolk. Now, we are confronted with signs that operate simply through misdirection.

Here’s the story.

And here is the sign making all the hubbub. (Oddly enough, the Arizona Republic didn’t include the photo with its news story. I had to head over to the Phoenix New Times, that visual bunch, to find it. You can read the NT story here.)

To counterbalance the tawdry signs of politics we see all around us, I direct you northward. There, drivers came across a (we hope) playful warning—about an escaped panda bear.

The story, not nearly as good as the photo below, is here.

Enjoy.

Former Ariz. Gov. Raúl Castro (Jack Kurtz/Arizona Republic)

A delightful way to start your week has been offered up by the Arizona Republic, which ran a story about former Arizona Governor Raúl Castro. Take a few moments to read an article that will remind you of the difference one person can make.

The difference I’m talking about was not spurred by the highly talented Castro, whose accomplishments are many. Instead, writer Bill Hermann points out that the retired governor gives credit for his success to a schoolteacher.

“As a fifth-grader, Castro did not seem destined for greatness. He had just moved from Mexico that year with his mother, father and 11 siblings. Castro never did his homework. Not because he couldn’t, but because he said he was lazy.

“One day, his teacher, Eileen Wright, put her hand on his shoulder. She told him that he had the makings of being a good student if he applied himself.

“It was the personal touch Castro needed. ‘On the way home, I thought to myself, That teacher is interested in me, Castro said. ‘I don’t want to disappoint her.’

“‘So, starting the following day, I did become a very good student all the way through.’”

In a time when schoolteachers are thrown under the political bus, that’s refreshing. And if a teacher was able to encourage a young, poor immigrant boy in Douglas, Arizona, I imagine educators still can make a difference today.

We have been pleased to run stories about Governor Castro in Arizona Attorney Magazine. Click though here to read our 2010 coverage of him, written by the remarkable Don Carson. (Our opening spread is below.)

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